Dungen did not tour this record in America. This is because the band's mastermind, Gustav Estjes was rumored to be alone in the snowy Swedish hinterlands, ingesting enough hallucinogens to give Hunter S. Thompson pause, and trying to untangle the beautiful mess of sounds stampeding inside his head. On the band's website, Estjes readily admits that his entire sonic leitmotif descends from the memory of being eight years old, hearing his mother’s copy of Are You Experienced? for the first time.
But Jimi Hendrix is merely the jumping off point for Estjes' lysergic symphonies; aided by Swede postman by day/guitar god by night Reine Fiske, Dungen spit back an impossibly melodic synthesis of the ’60s and early ’70s, seamlessly blending orange sunshine-laced Hendrix solos, snaking Revolver sitars, and some weird willowy flutes a la Aqualung. This is dusty analog music, buzzing with a drugged red-eyed glow, all spray-paint and candy color. It's not the sort of artistic statement that promises to change anyone’s life (unless you're this fellow), but Tio Bitar is a great work of escapist art, the sort of essential record I’d pick for any hypothetical list of desert island necessities.
MP3: Dungen-“Gor Det Nu”
The people who bitched about The Big Dough Rehab's lack of originality are the types who would've complained that Rembrandt painted too many pictures of Dutchmen with bushy mustaches and black felt hats. They're missing the point: like the famed 17th century portraitist, Ghost's brilliance lies in his innate ability to humanize even the most stiff figures and breath life into the most tired of tropes. “Yolanda's House” (explained at length here) should be merely another Wu heist, instead it thumps off the speakers with a novelist's eye for detail, from Ghost's meal of french fries and fish sticks, to Meth reprimanding Starks for laughing at his asthmatic girlfriend, to Raekwon's description of a drug connect as wearing a lot of “loud shit, you know that Steve Rifkind-style shit.”
Superficially, this just another casually brilliant Ghostface album, but underneath its veneer a greater linearity and thematic consistency emerges (save for “White Linen Affair,” which is plain retarded). If heads were chagrined that The Big Dough Rehab lacked “weird” songs about seeing Sponge Bob underwater, their absence came in exchange for a focus on deeper themes: mortality, a desire to repent, the proverbial Devil on Ghost's shoulder that that believes that life should be “Bentley's and big bills, bottles, biscuits, bitches, blunts, [and] bad boys bodying pit bulls” (as declared on “Paisley Darts.”) Cinematically arranged, even seemingly head-scratching decisions like “The Prayer” have a warped logic to them, with Ox's supplications serving as a second act turning point of sorts, with Ghost navigating treacherous femme fatales and mob shootouts in the third act, before ultimately recognizing life's fragility and the need to “slow down” on the finale. Of course, it isn't as consistently thrilling as Supreme Clientele, but it's still a lot more fun than this guy.
If you're desperate, the de rigueur cricism of Sound of Silver is that there's little else to it besides “Someone Great” and “All My Friends,” and that the latter is the kind of “Stairway To Heaven”/ “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for aging indie types to eventually beat their kids over the head with. But really- do you really want to hang out with people who can't find anything here? “North American Scum” isn't Ted Leo with a better sense of humor? The title track doesn't knock? I realize it's all hipster catnip, but you know what- sometimes “the blogs” are right.
I refuse to believe this won't be a record that matters when all's said and done. Because this seems to be the dovetailing of solutions to complaints about indie rock in general: dance music doesn't have any emotional resonance and the power trio is too fucking boring. And while 2007 was certainly quite the banner year for club music to go rock, let's face it: Simian Mobile Disco isn't sucking any less any time soon. This might have been a record you degraded on your year-end just to be original, but see if it isn't the one that you bring out in 2017 most often. —Ian Cohen
Random Spirit Lover is a dense epic sprawl of a record. If you listen to it enough, I’m reasonably sure you’ll start to go a little crazy. For a long time, it seemed to only make sense, drunk, rambling, stoned in the ashy delirium of 3:00 a.m revelation. With a frozen winter nightmare vibe that hits at some raw intestinal level, the sort of thing that sounded fit for a long car ride to the funeral of a close friend, rain clouds cackling overhead, setting the sad soundtrack to the inherent smallness and fragility of life. In the reel that flickers inside my head, it plays like The Chronicles of Narnia re-written entirely from memory by Guillermo Del Toro, with a soundtrack composed by a super-group of David Bowie, Frog Eyes, and the ghost of Elliot Smith. It would do horrible at the box office.
Random Spirit Lover requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Each song in and of itself is a weird tesseract to warp through, passing into a vivid cosmology of courtesans, failed heroes, snakes, stallions, leopards, and various other animals that added together would probably account for 22 percent of the San Diego Zoo. You have to ignore this record’s excesses and pretensions, it’s herky-jerky pacing and its song titles including “Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days” and “Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!” (the latter of which has a reasonable shot at being the title of the next big Southern ring-tone rap song). Spencer Krug is the rare songwriter capable of writing songs that can mean 1,000 things to a 1,000 people, an opacity that lends itself to a sort of timelessness that allows you to believe that if you play this in 50 years it’ll retain the mystery and magic it possesses today.
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, is El-P's masterpiece, a record both explicit and subtle, simultaneously political and apolitical, a record for a turbulent schizophrenic year where gruesome headlines from Iraq sat side-by-side with news of the Dow skyrocketing and Anna Nicole Smith corpse-raping. Heavily rooted in his NYC cityscape, El dipped jittery, a “Brooklyn baby / Waterlocked, walkin’ nervous” with a “gonzomatic fear turning [him] Hunter S. Thompson.”
Like many Def Jux records, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is monolithic and impenetrable on first listen. But with patience and time, its lyrical complexities and Bomb Squad by way of My Bloody Valentine sound grows increasingly more vivid. Listen to “Poisenville Kids No Wins,” and try to ignore El-P’s sound-of-a-mind-bleeding beat, a thundering seven-minute soulfuck full of Star Wars synths, Orwellian alarms, and drums big as boulders. Try to ignore lyrics that paint a hazy drugged dispatch from that valley between dawn and night, the story of a lonely train car home, vomited out onto blocks of Brooklyn brownstones and bodegas, nasal drip tearing its way down our narrator’s throat. Slanting against a sleeping storefront, he pauses for one last cigarette, letting the wispy Newport drags dissolve into the weak maroon sun, contemplating that fragile membrane that links light and darkness, sanity and madness, the desire to fight versus the wisdom to flee. Not only is I'll Sleep When You're Dead, the best hip-hop album made this year, it's one of the best ever made.